I have organized the notation for my dances into three categories:
“Tried and True” dances are ones I have personally used or seen used with good success.
“Untested” dances are, for the most part, sequences I developed during the COVID pandemic. I have not had time to evaluate all of these using real live dancers. Once I do, they will be moved to one of the other categories.
The third group of dances is called “Beta.” Dances in this list are there for different reasons. In some cases I have tested them and liked what I saw, but I feel a need for more testing so that I can better learn to teach or describe the figures.
Some beta dances are ones I wrote years ago when I was first experimenting with choreography. I’m fond of these, but their style is enough out of the mainstream that I rarely find situations where I want to use them.
And sometimes a beta dance is an experiment that I’m still intrigued by, but don’t feel is fully successful. I keep these alive hoping that either I or another more creative choreographer will eventually do something worthwhile with it.
I use global/positional notation for my dances. This is something I am still learning how to do, so apologies in advance if you find any of my directions confusing. Please feel free to contact me with questions or suggestions for improvement. Here are a few conventions I have adopted:
- “Files”: Following the practice of Brooke Friendly and others, I refer at times to the “right file” or “left file.” These terms indicate one of the two lines in a longways set. As dancers face up, those on the left are in the left file, and those on the right are in the right file. If I need to refer to an individual dancer, I use #1R to mean the top dancer in the right file, and similarly for #1L, #2R, etc. Although this terminology is useful for notation, it is rarely helpful for teaching or calling a dance. In real-life situations, I might instead refer to “the window side,” or some other feature in the hall, to orient the dancers.
- I occasionally borrow terms like “diagonals” or “corners” from English country dance terminology even when describing contra dances. Contras have absorbed many figures and choreographic ideas from the ECD world, including heys, the Mad Robin figure, poussettes, chase figures, and figures of 8. So, my belief is that this terminology, though not widely used for contras, might become familiar over time. I could easily be wrong about this, but (as with “files”) if the way I present dance descriptions is not appropriate for actual teaching or calling, you can find other ways, including demonstration, to get an idea across.
- When in doubt, my intention is to describe where dancers are at that moment, not who they are or where they began the dance. So, “right file” or “right diagonal” refers to whoever is in that position at that point in the dance. There are occasional exceptions to this, when I decide it would be helpful to identify a particular person or people. For example, those who began as first and second corners might have quite different roles in a particular adapted hey figure, which I would want to explain step-by-step as people move through the figure. In such situations, I might explicitly break (or perhaps I should say, “adapt”) my own rule.
- “Proper” and “Improper”: I’m using global/positional terminology with the strong belief that any dancer can dance from any position or side of the hall they wish. Eliminating the use of gendered language encourages this. That said, for contra dancing in particular, there is one key role-based relationship that remains important for dances to work, namely, that when you end a swing you consistently end on either the right or left side of your partner. This is actually not a gendered concept but a positional one. However, it is fair to ask what “proper” or “improper” might mean in this context?
- An improper contra dance is one where, when couples take hands four (ones facing down and twos facing up), they are standing on whatever they have agreed will be their “swing-ending” side (in relation to their partner).
- A proper contra dance is one where, after taking hands-4 to identify ones and twos, all swing and face up before the dance begins. Thus, if you end swings on the right, you begin and end the dance on the right file, and vice versa. Many classic dances (the “chestnuts”) have this form. It is an odd artifact of dance history that the way people most frequently line up for a dance nowadays is “improper,” and the way that is less common is “proper.” Perhaps the terminology will flip someday in the future.
- In English country dancing, the terms “proper” and “improper” have been used the same way, especially by modern choreographers, but it is largely unnecessary because there is almost never a swing with the “end on the right or left” convention. Still, a few of my English dances were originally written as improper in this sense, and I make note of that for those dances.
- The other way I use these terms is to orient dancers at certain moments in a dance. In this sense, “proper” means the side of the dance you began on, and “improper” means the other side.
- In contra dances, unless otherwise noted, “chain” means a right-hand chain: the person on the right offers right hand to their counterpart across the set, etc.
- Similarly, in contras, allemandes are almost always performed by the person who has the appropriate hand free. So, unless otherwise noted, if I write “allemande left,” the people with left hand free do the turn (and vice versa).
The following links will bring you to pages with dance instructions. When you get to a page, you will see asterisks after each title that indicate an estimate of each dance’s difficulty, from easy (1 asterisk: *) to challenging (5 asterisks: *****). Many factors affect how people feel about difficulty, and these estimates include both tested and untested dances. Your mileage will almost certainly vary at times!
English country dances